My list of things to do in Los Angeles is never ending (as you might have noticed from this article or this article.) Just as I think I’ve seen it all, something new opens and off we go. For this trip it was the opening of the King Tut exhibit at California Science Center that propelled us into action. Sometimes a day trip will do, but we decided that since it was summer it would be fun to take two days to explore LA. So Jason and I, along with our son, Ryan, set off for the City of Angels.
Table of Contents
Lunch at Horse Thief BBQ
It’s hard for me to visit Los Angeles and not stop at Grand Central Market. Plus, Grand Central is just a 15 minute drive from the museum we were headed to next. But when we arrived on a Sunday afternoon in the summer, the heat and crowds were overwhelming (the market is not air conditioned.) We had friends and family joining us for part of this trip, so the possibility of seating for a large group seemed impossible. Fortunately, a great place called Horse Thief BBQ saved the day! This outdoor restaurant is located next to the market and offers terrific BBQ as well as a bar serving very cold beer. They also offer plenty of shade from a combination of tree cover and umbrellas. But possibly the best part of this restaurant are the views of Angels Flight Railway. The combination of two iconic places--Grand Central Market and Angels Flight--make this a perfect LA dining spot.
A Quick Ride on Angels Flight
After lunch we took advantage of an operating Angels Flight (its notorious for breaking down) and ran across the street to board. The world’s shortest railroad has appeared in dozen of movies and television shows. Most recently it was the scene of a murder on the Amazon series, Bosch. For just a $1.00 each way, this is a great way to experience LA and Hollywood history.
King Tut Exhibit at California Science Center Los Angeles
It was 1977 and I was a nine-year-old child standing in a very large crowd of people at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago waiting to view The Treasures of Tutankhamun. I’m not sure why exactly, but this experience has always been a favorite childhood memory of mine. Maybe it was the exotic nature of King Tut or possibly because it was such a popular thing to do amongst family and friends at the time. Whatever the reason, when I saw that there was a new King Tut exhibit coming to Los Angeles I knew we had to see it.
There are really two stories woven together in this exhibit. The first is the story of the boy who became king at age nine and died just ten years later. The second is the tale of the discovery of a forgotten tomb. What I did not realize until walking through this current exhibit is that the Egyptian dynasties that came after Tut attempted to erase him from history. And for almost 2,000 years they were successful. In 1922, George Herbert and Howard Carter discovered this tomb which is one of the world’s best known archeological discoveries.
This particular King Tut exhibit does not include the famous death mask seen in so many photos, but it does include several items that have not previously left Egypt. Since the Egyptian government is currently building a museum to house all of the artifacts, it’s believed that this will be the last world tour. So for those interested, it's highly recommended that you make time to see the exhibit when it comes to your city.
The California Science Center offers so much more than just special exhibits. In particular, its the home of the space shuttle, Endeavor. And there are typically six to eight additional exhibits appropriate for adults and children. I cannot fail to mention that this is one of the few free museums in Los Angeles. Special Exhibits like King Tut do require the purchase of a ticket, but the rest of the museum is free. The current King Tut exhibit will remain in Los Angeles until early January and timed entry tickets can be purchased online. Adult tickets are $29 per person plus a processing fee.
Dinner at Philippe The Original
There are restaurants in Los Angeles that become part of the city’s lore, and Philippe the Original is one of those. This much-beloved place has been continuously operating since 1908 and is known for their french dip sandwiches. Everything is served on paper plates, there’s sawdust on the floor and most seating is at long communal tables. So needless to say, it’s not a fancy joint. I’m told this is a particularly popular place with Dodger fans who stop here on their way to a baseball game. We enjoyed the classic french dips along with sides of pickles, coleslaw, and potato salad. Everything was delicious.
Breakfast at the Bradbury Building Los Angeles
On day two Jason and I went in search of breakfast at one of my favorite coffee places, Blue Bottle. I love my coffee dark and strong, and Blue Bottle always delivers. What’s especially nice about this location is their placement inside the historic Bradbury Building. Even if you haven’t heard of this building, you’ve seen it in a movie, television show or music video. The exterior isn’t that interesting, so it’s important to go inside to see the skylit atrium. Mazes of stairs with intricately wrought iron railings can be seen all the way up to the fifth floor. Visitors are allowed to wander the entry level and to go the first landing which provides a great photo op. For architecture buffs, the Los Angeles Conservancy offers tours that include in-depth information about the history and stories of this fascinating building.
Petersen Automotive Museum
The Petersen was the ultimate destination of our second day. I’ve known about this museum for years, but due to my lack of interest in cars, I’ve generally avoided it. That ended when I saw their new building on Wilshire Blvd. a few months ago. They underwent a major renovation in 2015 that resulted in a gorgeous building providing much more exhibit space. I couldn’t imagine putting boring exhibits into such an interesting building. In doing some research I also learned that this museum is one of the most highly rated sites in Los Angeles. Clearly, I needed to see it.
We started on the third floor which provides some history of the automobile, but more interesting to me were all the cars that have appeared in famous movies. There’s the DeLorean from Back to the Future, the Batmobile, Batcycle, and my personal favorite, the Thunderbird from Thelma and Louise.
The other two floors offer a wide range of exhibits including the history of Japanese car manufacturing, a large and beautiful display of Porsches, and a few fascinating examples of lowriders. The $16 adult admission was reasonable, and there are discounts for children and students. A vault tour showcasing very high end cars is available for an additional fee, but we opted not do this. There are several other museums within walking distance of the Petersen including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the La Brea Tar Pits. A whole day could easily be spent in this Mid-Wilshire section of LA.
Best Galbi Jim in Southern California
If the Lee family is near Koreatown, then that’s where we must eat. We returned to one of our favorite restaurants in the area, Sun Nong Dan. Once again we ordered spicy galbi jim with cheese on top, which is melted at your table with the assistance of a blow torch (click here to see the video on Facebook). I must mention that traditional spicy galbi jim does not come with cheese--this is clearly an American addition--but oh boy, is it a great addition to this savory stew loaded with ribs, vegetables and rice cakes. Leaving in a food coma, I was so grateful that Jason offered to drive home.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Los Angeles
The city of Los Angeles has experienced seven consecutive years of increased tourism. And several parts of the city, most notably downtown, have seen some exciting revitalization. There is always something new and interesting to draw us to this dynamic area. But I feel compelled to mention the rapidly growing homeless population and tent communities that are--in part--the result of too many luxury hotels and high end condos. Gentrification is great for some, and devastating for others. I’m deeply disappointed that the city government has done such a poor job of responding to this crisis.
Why do I mention this? For anyone following my recommendations I want you to be prepared for the sad scenes of men and women living in tents along some streets of LA, mostly in the downtown area. I also want you to stay safe. I suggest the usual cautions of locking cars, leaving valuables at home or in a hotel safe, and always being aware of your surroundings. Downtown LA can be walkable, but if you’re ever uncomfortable, the cost of a taxi or Uber is a wise investment. Visits to LA should be fun and safe.